Climate Change Brings Worse Heart Health to People Worldwide

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Key Takeaways

  • Climate change is harming heart health worldwide

  • High temperatures, disasters, ozone pollution and wildfire smoke are contributing to heart disease

  • Older people, the poor and minorities are most affected

THURSDAY, June 13, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Climate change is harming the heart health of people around the world, a new review warns.

Extreme temperatures, hurricanes and other dangerous weather events all contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and heart-related death, researchers reported June 12 in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

“Climate change is already adversely affecting cardiovascular health in the U.S. and worldwide,” said researcher Dhruv Kazi, associate director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Center for Outcomes Research in Boston. “Urgent action is needed to mitigate climate change-related cardiovascular risk, particularly among our most vulnerable populations.”

Over the last century, the average global temperature has increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers said. This has led to long-term shifts in weather patterns, rising sea levels and disrupted ecosystems.

The hottest 10 years on record have all occurred in the past decade, researchers noted.

For this review, researchers evaluated data from nearly 500 previous studies conducted between 1970 and 2023.

The studies all looked at associations between heart health and weather phenomena, including extreme temperatures, wildfire smoke, ozone pollution, salt-water intrusion and events like hurricanes, dust storms and droughts.

They found that the heart health of older adults, minority groups and the poor are disproportionately affected by climate change.

They also found that the heart health risk posed by extreme weather events can last for months or years following the initial hazard.

For example, the risk of death from heart disease remained elevated up to a year after Hurricane Sandy, which caused close to $20 billion in damage in New York City alone in 2012, researchers noted.

Further, some events like wildfires can cause widespread risk to people hundreds of miles from the actual event. Wildfire smoke increases the risk of cardiac arrest and other heart health problems, studies have found.

"Given how many Americans are now being exposed to wildfire smoke every year -- as was the case of wildfire smoke from Canadian fires affecting New York city last summer -- further studies to accurately quantify this risk are urgently needed,” Kazi said in a Beth Israel news release.

Kazi ticked off the ways climate change can impact heart health:

  • Extreme heat causes increases heart rate and blood pressure

  • Wildfire smoke can trigger systemic inflammation

  • Natural disasters cause mental distress

  • Hurricanes and floods can disrupt people’s health care

“We know that these pathways have the potential to undermine the cardiovascular health of the population, but the magnitude of the impact, and which populations will be particularly susceptible, need further study,” Kazi said.

More research also needs to be done to assess the heart health risk of climate change in poorer nations, where people might be at even higher risk, researchers added.

“Though data on outcomes on low-income countries are lacking, our study shows that several of the environmental stressors that are already increasing in frequency and intensity with climate change are linked with increased cardiovascular risk,” said senior researcher Dr. Mary Rice, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Patients also can take steps to protect their heart health by planning ahead and minimizing their exposure to things like extreme heat and wildfire smoke, Kazi said.

For example, patients can develop contingency plans to make sure they have a steady supply of necessary medications in the event of a flood or hurricane, Kazi said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on climate change and health.

SOURCE: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, news release, June 12, 2024

What This Means For You

People should limit their exposure to extreme heat and wildfire smoke, and plan ahead to make sure their health needs will be met during a weather event like a hurricane or flood.

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